Chemistry doctoral student Glenn Pinson at work in a UM lab
Iraq War veteran Glenn Pinson didn’t plan to stick around UM for a Ph.D. once he earned his master’s in 2007. But an idea stuck in his head and wouldn’t leave, so he had to do something about it.
That’s how creativity works.
A share of a federal research grant, two faithful faculty mentors and a devoted wife who understands how the research virus flows through his veins supported Pinson’s decision to forge on.
Pinson’s research involves using sunlight to activate a catalyst that creates hydrogen gas from mine waste drainages, such as the Berkeley Pit in Butte. The 45-year-old is at least halfway toward finishing his research and gaining a doctoral degree. He has the support matrix and half of the catalyst framework built to hold the metals responsible for creating the hydrogen gas.
His work is an example of creativity and research in motion and, if successful, will make Montana and the world a better place.
Some people think chemistry is difficult and avoid it. Pinson thinks it’s difficult, too, but he obviously didn’t avoid it. In fact, it became his life’s passion, in more ways than one.
In May 2004 the St. Louis native was finishing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at UM when he learned his National Guard unit soon would be activated. Then one day on the Oval, he met a woman he’d seen before, a chemistry department administrative assistant. Theirs was a whirlwind courtship, and they married shortly before his deployment.
“She’s (Roslyn) the reason I came back alive,” Pinson says.
For nearly a year, Pinson served as a gunner on a Humvee with the added responsibility of protecting his commanding officer. He saw a lot of combat, but he came back unharmed – physically, at least.
“It’s one of the most dangerous positions you can have,” he says. “When I came back, I was all messed up.”
Pinson sought help and was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Roz’s love and devotion pulled me out of a very dark place,” he says.
He took a one-year welding instructor job at UM’s College of Technology, a skill he knew well from practicing it for 20 years.
UM chemistry Professor Garon Smith offered him a spot in his research lab if Pinson wanted to go after an advanced degree. Pinson knew he needed a difficult subject to keep him interested and challenged after the intensity of the war, and chemistry offered that opportunity. Smith kept his word, and later Pinson’s wife helped him find a share of a federal Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant to fund his research.
Today he works in Ed Rosenberg’s UM lab but still helps Smith as a teaching assistant. During autumn semester 2010, Pinson taught by day and worked on his research nights and weekends. He also works with Rosenberg on a Montana Tech of UM grant investigating the frontiers of fuel-cell technology.
The catalyst idea that keeps Pinson’s own research flowing shows great promise, he says.
“If all this works out, UM may one day have another patent,” he says. “It has a lot of economic and environmental cleanup potential.”
Patents, mentoring, and creative and research activities are at the heart of what Pinson should receive and produce at UM, according to its guiding strategies. In fact, Rosenberg, who has patents and partners with a spin-off company, sets an example.
The University is approaching 50 patents that exist or have applications pending, says Joe Fanguy, UM director of technology transfer. By fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in research and technology, UM transforms discovery into applications that benefit the region, nation and world. UM works to advance today’s technology to produce tomorrow’s products.
“It’s exciting that in 2010 UM for the first time had a startup company that went into human clinical trials for a drug for strokes,” Fanguy notes.
Scholarship, research and creative work are essential to campus life and academic programming at UM. Faculty members are expected to engage in leading research and scholarship that result in publications, exhibitions, performances and presentations.
Dave Forbes, dean of the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, says everyone benefits from research.
“The very best faculty are those actively involved in creating new knowledge and bringing that cutting-edge knowledge to the classroom,” he says. “Those faculty also are seeking new and innovative methods to share their ideas and knowledge with those outside the University.”
Strong faculty and student scholarship are integral to the University’s ability to offer educational programs. UM works to advance today’s technology to produce tomorrow’s products, contributing to innovation, job creation and business opportunities. To measure success in this arena, UM will monitor the number of publications and patents produced, as well as new business startups, spin-off companies and jobs created.
In nonresearch creative scholarship, the University will gauge success by the number and stature of publications, performances, presentations and exhibitions. Campus also will monitor the number of national and international awards and recognitions in all areas to help gauge progress.
In addition, UM will continue providing regular and systematic evaluation of faculty performance to measure productivity, quality and impact. Campus also will continue offering students multiple venues to share their creative work, such as exhibitions, poetry readings and poster presentations.
“We’re preparing students to go out in the workforce prepared in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise,” Fanguy says.
Even as a UM senior, Pinson worked on an electron transport protein called asurin in the lab of biological sciences Associate Professor Michele McGuirl. He found undergraduate research opportunities readily available at UM, setting him on a path toward a doctorate and a future in science.
In Iraq, Pinson was the gunner on a Humvee with the charge of protecting his commanding officer.
Pinson strolls campus with his wife, Roslyn, who works with UM’s Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics.
“She’s the reason I came back alive,” Pinson says.